WASHINGTON — The U.S. military had better get ready to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less. That’s the bottom line of the so-called “new strategic guidance” issued last week by President Barack Obama during a brief visit to the Pentagon. Flanked by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama proudly proclaimed to allies and adversaries alike that the United States is heading toward a much less expensive, far smaller and ultimately less capable military than we’ve had since before World War II.
Titled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the 16-page document is the result of a “fundamental review” ordered by the White House in April. It purports to provide a strategic framework for addressing present and future threats to the United States and the means of protecting the nation from them now that the “tide of war” in Iraq and Afghanistan is receding. It doesn’t live up to the hype.
In a letter accompanying the review, the president claims it was “shaped by America’s enduring national security interests.” At the Pentagon briefing Jan. 5, he insisted, “The size and the structure of our military and defense budgets have to be driven by a strategy, not the other way around.” He also issued a stunning rebuke to his predecessors: “We have to remember the lessons of history. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past — after World War II, after Vietnam — when our military was left ill-prepared for the future.”
We can count on seeing video of those words repeated ad nauseam in “re-elect” campaign commercials this summer. But his own “priorities” document makes clear that Obama plans to double down on the “mistakes of the past.” He claims that it is now a “national security imperative” to reduce our federal deficit “through a lower level of defense spending.” That’s a strategy driven by dollars — not by the threats and risks we face.
For more than 70 years, the size, structure and capabilities of our military have been driven by retaining the capacity to fight a two-front war. That’s how we won World War II, deterred Soviet aggression during the Cold War and eventually brought down the “Evil Empire.” This archaic “peace through strength” strategy is not part of the new “Obama Doctrine.”
According to POTUS and Secretary Panetta, the “Joint Force for the future” will be “smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.” They also claim that our austere military “will be prepared to confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world.” All this embraces the idea that we can fight our enemies at the times and places of our own choosing.
Such a strategy assumes that risks posed by a nuclear-armed Iran in the Persian Gulf, the possibility of Pyongyang’s launching another surprise attack across the Korean demilitarized zone, Beijing’s military and economic adventurism in the Pacific and a resurgence of radical Islam in the Middle East are sequential events — not simultaneous. In his haste to claim credit for ending what he calls “a decade of war,” Obama apparently has forgotten that we did not choose the times and places of the terror attacks on 9/11.
The O-Team’s planning guidance states that we must “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” Yet it also contends that we can reduce our defense budget — by more than $1.1 trillion over the next decade; delay acquisition and fielding of advanced weapons systems, such as ballistic missile defense and the F-35 joint strike fighter; draw down U.S. force levels in Europe and the Middle East; dramatically reduce the size of the active-duty U.S. Army and Marine Corps; increase reliance on National Guard and Reserve forces; and reduce pay and benefits for an “all-volunteer military.” How these competing objectives can be achieved is beyond comprehension to anyone familiar with our military.
Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the new Obama Doctrine is a “lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America.” His critique went downhill from there: “This strategy ensures American decline in exchange for more failed domestic programs. In order to justify massive cuts to our military, he has revoked the guarantee that America will support our allies, defend our interests, and defy our opponents.”
All true. But McKeon’s most telling rebuke was also a warning to the Obama administration: “The world has always had, and will always have a leader. As America steps back, someone else will step forward.”